Not All Families Are Dysfunctional, Right?

February 15, 2024

As the world continues to spiral out of control, I find myself leaning on my friends. Some friends, though, I fear, are part of the problem. I’m thinking of the MSNBC crowd, who have become my companions in the wormhole. I can hear Glenn Kirschner’s voice, “Friends, I know it’s been long coming, but accountability in on its way.” He’s a comforting dad, a wise advisor, a trusted friend. He, like many in the MSNBC stable, dissolves the barrier between lofty expert and fellow sufferer. It’s remarkably humanizing; but it’s seductive and addictive too. How could we not be drawn in, and obsessively?

Andrew Weissmann is another who brings a dose of humanity to the cold and troubled world of law and politics and ultimate threats. His podcast, Prosecuting Donald Trump, with Mary McCord, is an unusual synthesis of legal reasoning and … giggling. The two hosts are comfortable talking through the maneuvers and principles and case history and possibilities—so much so that they have no fear letting their guard down in their podcast, showing at times their ignorance or personal quirks—and always their warm friendship and gentle teasing. The silliness is never that silly; it’s homey; it’s what it might feel like to have such experts living with you, sitting at your kitchen table, just being in the moment, along with all the momentous decisions and events they are committed to explain as best they can. I commend Andrew for his ability to turn on and off his professional expertise mode. I shouldn’t say “turn off,” since it’s never off; it’s just that he adds his personality and humanity in the podcast in ways we never really see when he’s on camera, where he’s pretty much all business. The subtext here is a kind of statement on how to manage all the baggage, the fallout, the potential despair of the topics being dissected. There’s logical principle, yes, but there’s also some larger, kinder, softer context. The two sides aren’t at odds. The full human being can be both analytical/world beating and humble/relaxed—and sweet with a friend sitting alongside you, even if she is in another state. 

The tone of so many of the MSNBC hosts promotes this humane integration.

And so, what chance do I stand in not becoming too dependent on them? I think my first plunge into this milieu was motivated out of a desire to check something off—to get finished with this Trump business so that I could get on with my life. I find I have often approached life’s problems with a “just get this thing done,” or checklist, approach, as though progress were possible, if only, if only. What I needed to realize then, and now, is that what is needed is an “acceptance of the process” as the default state. It’s an illusion that we can ever get beyond [fill in the blank]. What is needed is the right processing of things.

Journalists have always gotten this. Part of their business is to keep the “news” new—and continuing. There are no endpoints. All that matters is the production and consumption of the stories. The pressures of these realities lead to conditions of sensationalizing and controversy-mongering that are all too well known by anyone in a literate, modern society. In the context of my current condition, I have come to rely on MSNBC folk to be my family. We’re never done with family; we don’t check them off. We just plan to be with them through the years.

In the throes of these dynamics, I sometimes glimpse a version of things where a good balance is found among (1) finished, checked-off outcomes; (2) humanizing “being with” the experts; (3) other things—all mixed together in the right proportions to round off a fully human engagement.

Finding this proper balance has always been a need or an endeavor to be embraced—whatever the world conditions and whatever one’s politics. However, the current state of communication (in general) and social media (in particular), in a hyper-connected, hyper-technologized, hyper-threatened world has made our present moment unlike any in history. Add the destabilizations of Covid, with all its isolations. Add further—perhaps most of all—the growing pains associated with the unearthing of bigotries that for so many years in a pre-technologized world were allowed to fester unseen, unknown. 

The upshot: Psychological survival seems to demand that we retreat to our respective echo chambers, our “families,” just for the purpose of maintaining basic mental health.

Literature, philosophy, linguistics, and rhetorical theory—the stuff of my classes—should offer touchstones and foundations and routines on which to recover some stability. And while I feel empowered by the massiveness of uncertainty and method and humility (and appreciation) fostered by humanistic studies, I look on with sadness as the time for higher education seems to be receding. The reification of the university—like the reification of the fourth estate, or the reification of “democracy”—is dissolving before my very eyes, at Saint Xavier University, yes, but throughout our society, in its shorthand approaches to “information,” if not knowledge.

Maybe the term “growing pains” provides some hope? We’re always on the way to somewhere else, someplace that, if not an endpoint, might at least be a kind of benchmark or banked competence for “leveling up,” to borrow a concept from gaming culture. Even though we’re ever processing, surely some changes have registered. Maybe nothing so grand as an “arc of history bending towards justice.” But who can deny the improvements that the centuries have brought in regards to education and democracy and the good life? My family today is much larger than it ever could have been—even at earlier points in my own lifetime. Thank you, YouTube and MSNBC app and Xfinity. 

I have always been optimistic that the changes being wrought, especially by technology, portend more benefit than threat. But the pains of growing towards that benefit, not to mention the existential threats of a world on fire, have tempered that optimism. If only we can survive…. Survival-—be it for today, the 2024 election, the tipping point—is more than a “check-off” outcome on my list, right?

Getting Started on Faculty Senate

September 15, 2023

I’m serving on a new Faculty Senate work group on the topic of “faculty development.” Our chair suggested we start by having him consult with current faculty leaders on campus who have responsibilities in this area. Our group was unanimous in agreeing that such conversations were a good starting place. As I responded to the email thread, I found myself revisiting some cherished memories of colleagues, two in particular, who helped transform SXU many years ago. Here’s my email:

I’m on board too […]. I do have one initial recommendation: We might want to add Julie McNellis to the list of people to consult. Maybe even Nancy Lockie (though I haven’t had contact with Nancy for a few years). Back in the nineties (maybe it was the eighties?), Julie and Nancy created the Center for Educational Practice, which was kinda a visionary professional development organization that was something of a forerunner of professional development offices in higher ed at a national level. The SXU of today probably shares more similarities to the SXU of that earlier time in terms of resources and investments in the educational mission. Possibly. But anyway, the office they created was a real startup of a university-wide organization that provided various services and resources to faculty at all levels of the career arc, in various disciplines, in technology, pedagogy, and every dimension of professional life. They roped me in early on and nurtured me in transformational ways. After a few years, we wrote a grant, for instance, to create the MTTA, the Midwest Technology Teaching Academy, which was funded by AT&T to support collaborative faculty development technology projects of teams of several member institutions (SXU, Loras, Alverno, and Holy Cross). 

ANYWAY, I think it would be great to tap Julie for her stories about kickstarting an initiative like this, in an institution like this, in tight times like these. […] Just a thought—Angelo

Thinking about Julie and Nancy summons all that was good about SXU. I need to celebrate the blessings of them rather than grieve the soullessness of SXU, as I have been doing the past few years. Yesterday, while I was getting my MSNBC fix (alas), I heard that the Republican party had become the party of grievance—the place for old, white, privileged people, men primarily, to complain about change and lost status. I am uncomfortable with the extent to which my blog has become a grievance repository for an old, white, male, privileged professor. On the other hand, life at SXU has brought me so low—albeit only because, dialectically speaking, we had been so, so high. . . .

It was that illusion that progress was always forward-moving, that what was gained would remain and be built upon: that’s the source of the current grief that so stubbornly grips me. Of course, we knew there were no guarantees. But still we believed that progress was somehow to be counted on, taken for granted. Now all we have is destabilization—here in our own backyard, but so resoundingly amplified by crises everywhere, the climate problem, foremost of all, but also the threat to democracy, a much smaller, but still very large problem. With the climate issue, this whole experiment in humanity has been called into question, as we seem committed to seeing this sixth extinction through, like right away. How can we bank on anything? Then there’s the lost promise of education, the crushing of unions, and even, sigh, the pulling of the rug in sports.

This last one is big with me, I confess. I’m thinking of the loss of football—and I’m feeling it this fall on campus for some reason (it’s puzzling, since college football in autumn was never really part of my SXU routine). But it’s become impossible to lean into the joy of a football game, as the devastating effects come home, more and more pronounced. The morning news showed the benefit for Steve McMichael, who, immobilized in his struggle with ALS, moves us to tears, even if football per se might not be the definitive cause of his affliction. And earlier this week, there was the Aaron Rodgers injury. Much as I want to indulge in schadenfreude—I find it more painful than satisfying to see even him so afflicted.

Thinking about Julie and Nancy and SXU in 1996 (when I was hired) brings to mind the possibility of the “little engine that could.” Expectations were low, but hopes were high that we could go places. Our faculty had that tendency that academics have—letting ego have its way in judgments, sometimes quite mean ones, leveled as a pastime, elevating one by diminishing others. But the fundamentals of our community were solid. Faculty had a partnership with the administration; we had a union that fought behind the scenes with dignity and collegiality; we were functioning, more or less conventionally as an institution of higher education, in a context of dialogue and scholarship and teaching and community. The halls were filled with open doors (a lot of the time)—with faculty and students, in lively conversations, in and outside classrooms and offices.

The conversations were not tinged with the climate-change/demise-of-football/anti-labor/end-of-democracy doom of today—and they were not perfunctory as I am coming to see them in the SXU of 2023. At yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting the provost shared his vision of “academic affairs.” He made his slides available, and I think we need, as a community, to perform a close reading of those slides—primarily to supply contexts that uncover just how vacuous the content is. As he spoke of assessment and hiring practices and program development and decision making, there was nothing to dispute. Who could argue with any of the principles, which, basically, could be summed up as “we must make good, informed decisions.” 

But the devil is in the details. Look at the decisions that have been made in the Joyner years. The cutting of programs—and prior to that, the gutting of programs—has been so ill-considered and extreme that any future “good, informed decisions” have become more or less pointless. There’s nothing here to build on. There’s no hope.

So, I’m back to the grievance. But seriously: no philosophy, religious studies, English, Spanish, history, sociology, math? Just what do you need to have a university? At the least, you need a commitment to learning and study in these areas, right? And the justification that there is insufficient student demand for these subjects ignores the fact that the programs have been defunded and under-cut for years, all in the context of a reduction in our commitment to general education—all of which was unnecessary in the context of our programs and all of which has been destructive of any possibility for growth or recovery in a time of institutional upheaval.

Thinking of Julie and Nancy brings to mind those other times—do I call them halcyon days? What do you need for halcyon days? I guess, first of all, you need an assumption that something matters, that hope for betterment exists, that we can pull together. A little sunshine wouldn’t hurt. I’m not saying that those things are gone completely; but we have spiraled so.

We need to rebuild. Working with colleagues on the Senate work group creates a new opportunity. There is goodwill among these individuals, and so, perhaps there can be some kind of laying of groundwork.

But before we pretend to move on too far, the trauma of the Joyner years needs a reckoning. I find myself in a haze of uncertainty about where we are. Do we have a department? Do we have a major? Will there be any effort to address why such drastic program closures were put into effect without proper data analysis, or consideration of causes and effects?

We need to bring ourselves back to a Julie/Nancy moment of building something (perhaps out of nothing). I’d like to ask them how they found the initiative and courage and resources to spearhead a faculty development program at such a small and under-resourced institution.

I’d also like to thank them for their humanity, and all they’ve done for me—and so many—in such genuine ways. Not to mention the fun.

Alumni Appeal to Save SXU’s English Programs

[This letter was written as a plea to former students to solicit support for retaining the English and English Secondary Education majors at SXU.]

Dear Alum:
I hope this letter finds you well. I apologize for reaching out only in a time of need, and I hope you might indulge me by reading my plea to you. I am posting this blog as part of an outreach effort to my past students—so if you know of any friends who attended SXU with you, could you please forward this blog to them?
I am asking for help in saving the English and English Education Programs at SXU. The current leaders in administration have a different vision for the university than those of us who have built our English and humanities programs—specifically, the program you took when you were a student here. 
English, and by extension, English Education, are two of many liberal arts programs that are on the chopping block as the university seeks to restructure itself. Those of us who teach in the programs believe the thinking that has led to this decision is flawed—on many levels. First of all, we feel the quality of our programs makes a strong recommendation for their continuance. On a more pragmatic level, we feel we have had and currently do have enough students across our programs to make them viable. And even more pragmatically, we feel that the urgent societal need for teachers puts us in a position to grow and provide a strong formation for the next generation of English teachers throughout Illinois (and elsewhere). On a less pragmatic level, we believe that some of the traditional values of higher education—an immersion in the humanities, the cultivation of critical thinking, the study and pursuit of “the good life,” are still relevant to society and individuals alike as we face an increasingly uncertain future, one that needs a clearer discernment and appreciation of priorities.

[NOTE: the University is proposing to retain a form of English Education by moving the program over to the Department of Education, but without the English major, the content of the Secondary Education Program will likely be gutted, as the Education department lacks the faculty and resources needed to cover the range of material that our full major has contained.]
We feel that our society needs people who are educated in literature, language, writing, and culture, and that the work we do has value—for our students themselves, for the professions they work in, for their communities—and, for those who have become teachers, for all the students they—you—teach. I’m incredulous that I need to be making this argument. 
But at SXU, administrators are looking at national trends in higher education, and a few powerful people have jumped full force into a view of higher ed that is much more career and skill oriented—not to mention limited in options—than has been true in the past. These trends extend beyond SXU, and the movement away from a traditional liberal arts program is being propelled by many societal factors—including the impact of the Internet/social media; critiques of the expense of higher education; new perspectives on the value of a college degree; changing workplaces as a result of the pandemic; and more.
I hope you had a positive experience as an English or English Education major at SXU. I hope, in the intervening time between your studies here and your current situation, you have had moments of reflection, where a book you read, a paper you wrote, a discussion—in or out of class—prompted some intrigue and growth in your mind. I hope you can summon up the good will to remember the best intentions of your professors in providing formative experiences that stretched you, and helped you think and feel in challenging and supportive and innovative ways.
So here is my plea: Would you be willing to jot down a few words of support—something we can use to help our administrators see that they are being far too extreme in contemplating the elimination of liberal arts majors in English, Spanish, sociology, math, philosophy, and religious studies (for starters)? Please say yes, and, if you feel comfortable doing so, please share your testimonial (it doesn’t have to be long!) by simply posting a comment below in response to this blog entry. If you prefer to send a private message, you can email any of the professors still teaching in the program. I’ve included their names with links to their email addresses below. I also have links to SXU’s administration and Board of Trustees (who will possibly decide on program elimination as soon as its June meeting in a few weeks), and to our founders, the Sisters of Mercy.
I have had a blessed career at SXU as a professor, and my heart is breaking, frankly, when I see the changes we are experiencing—the loss of colleagues, the diminishing support for students, the disinvestment in programs to such an extent whereby the move to close them down completely is just a small sideways step after a long process of being worn down.
Ever the optimist, I hope for a better day, one brought on through action and persuasion—through good use of language and good stories. We have those things, and so, please do what you can, if you feel so motivated, to help us persist and continue our work.
And if you wish to contact me to just chat, please do that too!
Wishing you well–Angelo
Current English Faculty of the Department of Language ad Literature
Angelo Bonadonna
Norman Boyer
John Gutowski
Aisha Karim
Mary Beth Tegan

SXU Administration
SXU Board of Trustees
SXU Provost, Saib Othman

SXU Founders
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
• Conference for Mercy Higher Education (Julia Cavalo, Executive Director)

What’s the Right Number of Faculty?

March 30, 2023

In 1996, when I started at SXU, we had eleven tenured or tenure-track faculty in English. Given the number of English majors at the time—not much more than our current number of 61—the university’s investment in our English programs was significant. It was evidence of a commitment to the liberal arts, to general education, to writing, and to secondary education. Regarding this last item: At the time I was the university’s only full-time, tenure track faculty member who worked as a discipline-based coordinator of a secondary education program. Over the years, secondary education coordinators were appointed in math and history; in other secondary education programs—science, music, art, and Spanish—faculty liaisons were identified, consulted, and made members of the Teacher Education Council, the policy making body of teacher education at SXU. The university had come to recognize—and promote and make investments in—the value of a close coordination of pedagogical and disciplinary knowledge and skills in educating a teacher. 

It wasn’t always a smooth process, as in those early days, my role was something of a peace-maker. Tensions arose between education colleagues and CAS professors, who sometimes seemed aloof and dismissive of pedagogical concerns; to many CAS colleagues the demands made by education faculty for program compliance often seemed arcane and intrusive. Such tensions between shared programs or forced unions among academics with different training and interests are common—though at SXU, the coordination grew into a collegial working relationship, as both sides came to see their mutual existence and efficacy as relying on one another.

I now find myself, once again, the only full-time, tenured/tenure track discipline-based faculty member who identifies his main duty as one of coordinating a CAS department’s secondary education program. I look back on the rise and fall of the university’s commitment to its education programs, as well as its investment in the liberal arts. The deprivations of the current scene leave me convinced there is a more balanced approach available. 

Trends in education, a favorite point of reference for our departing president, are important to study. But they must not be weaponized as “absolutes” to inspire fear and to justify extreme solutions (especially ones that don’t exactly fit our circumstances). We may need to make tough choices, but we need wisdom and information and goodwill to do so.

The problem facing faculty at SXU and elsewhere is that we are not always equipped with the necessary information to make sound choices about resources and investments, and certainly not at a comprehensive, or institutional, level. Even if we had access to detailed financial data (something that was more guaranteed when we had a union and the administration was obliged to share data in many areas), we would lack the expertise, and perhaps the perspective needed for wise decision making or advocacy. As Arunas, SXU’s patron saint of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), explained to me and others: “Administrators have a tough job; I wouldn’t want to do it. They work hard dealing with problems that have no clear or easy solutions. Faculty have their own jobs to do, and they cannot both do that job and also run the university.” 

The former union, when it worked well, provided a means of dialogue between faculty and administration in a way that systemized many balancing correctives. Collective bargaining typically brings this advantage, at least when it’s working well. In better days, we could collaborate in negotiating crucial matters like right-sizing the faculty and properly supporting individuals and programs. During negotiations from 2017-on, our union kept asking Dr. Joyner’s negotiators—principally her provosts, and there were many—Kathleen Alaimo, Suzanne Lee, James McLaren, Mike Marsden, Gwendolyn George, Angela Durante, and Saib Othman (though the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC, our union) only negotiated with the first three)—what number of faculty was right for SXU. What was the administration’s vision in terms of faculty composition? We never received a response.

It was perhaps a difficult question, possibly unanswerable in the context of the institution at that time, with a lot of variables: What kind of programs do we want? What do our students want? What are the trends? What standards exist or are inferable from other institutions? Despite the difficulties, the discussion of the question could have been productive.

The lack of any kind of dialogue on this matter left the administration a kind of carte blanche in simply pursuing, without the explicit announcement of such, the reduction in faculty in general as a kind of absolute end in itself. We have about 30% fewer faculty today than when Dr. Joyner began her presidency—but the more dangerous and insidious change has to do with the compositional change we’ve seen. We have lost many tenured colleagues—almost a 50% reduction in tenured member since Dr. Joyner’s arrival in 2017, with a similar reduction (i.e., nearly 50%) in tenure lines over that period.

Here is the legacy of Dr. Joyner’s presidency at Saint Xavier:


Please note that the year prior to this data set was 2015-2016, arguably our most traumatic period, when we lost almost 40 full time faculty in a single year. This was the height of the Gilbert crisis. Dr. Joyner entered after that exodus, and after the crisis had been paid for. Yet she continued to cut—reducing tenured and tenure track faculty by nearly 50% over her tenure.

The past several years, beginning in 2015 as SXU entered into what our departing president and the Board of Trustees call its “fragile” period, decisions have been made that have required “all hands on deck”—beginning with the opening of the CBA in 2015—and its subsequent openings two other times throughout the span of the 2015-2019 four-year contract. The Memos of Understanding (MOUs), three in total required reporting and collaboration at unprecedented levels. Faculty found themselves “running”—or approximating the running of the university, as we reviewed every expense, every outlay of cash, every plan, often contentiously with the administration. Through it all, the union lost favor with the faculty—possibly for being entangled in the weeds, possibly for breaking down in communication—but really, because the problems were so big—and it’s hard work “running the institution”—and we were only thinking along those lines, not actually doing it.

That was when we had access to data. Now we fly in the dark, something that wouldn’t be all that bad if we had trust in our administration. We don’t—and for good reasons, but not permanent reasons, one hopes. We need to get the trust back. The promise of a new administration should inspire some hope that “something better” might come along. How much worse can it get?

While faculty are not equipped to make decisions on every expenditure of institutional life, we are equipped to weigh in on the massive disinvestment in tenure and tenure lines that has been pursued by the Joyner administration. SXU’s disinvestment in its academic mission was so extreme that it caught the attention (via published IPEDS and other data that the university is required to report) of Matthew Hendricks of the University of Tulsa, who created a “dashboard” analyzing SXU’s finances in the context of student outcomes and administrative austerity. For a more mission-referenced discussion the impacts of the type of disinvestment that Hendricks analyzed, please read the talk by Dr. Mary Beth Tegan presented to faculty in a special meeting called to gauge faculty support for proposed program eliminations.

Why are we rushing to eliminate programs at this delicate transitional moment? Soon after Dr. Joyner’s announcement that she would be leaving SXU to become the next president of St. Norbert College, the movement to restructure SXU and eliminate several liberal arts programs kicked into overdrive. With the provost’s recent submission of his restructuring plan to Senate and the current fast-tracking of program closure proposals, it is clear to us that we are entering a deeper, darker, hotter circle of hell. The weaknesses of the plan have been referenced in several entries in this blog. But ultimately, those entries are, more or less, my opinions, despite the level of volume in the complaints.

We need better decisions, and, more importantly, better trust. We may not, ultimately, divine the exact right number of faculty for programs. But we can do better than we have been doing on this question. We can certainly refuse to accept the administration’s refusal to articulate their number; we can ask them to defend, if not justify, their plans and actions, which have left us decimated times 5 (if “decimated,” etymologically, is the destruction of one of ten, our nearly 50% reductions require a factor of 5).

SXU’s Deficient Approach to Program Review and Elimination

March 29, 2023

The question of program elimination can be an opportunity for stakeholders with opposing or varying perspectives to come together, conduct discussions, and work toward consensus of some sort—whether it be for conservation, elimination, or something in between involving new configurations and agendas. Parties may articulate their concerns, their plans, their aspirations.

So far, we haven’t had that kind of discussion. 

We’ve been in crisis mode, rushing here and there, putting out fires. We’ve also been attacking one another, an unfortunate dynamic that often arises in conflict—faculty attacking administrators, and v.v., and worse, faculty sometimes attacking other faculty. I’ve noticed in my 30 years in higher education that faculty can be snippy. Administrators can be smarmy. And vice versa, and everything in between. There are egos, and a lot of intelligence, an occasional dose of peacockery, many instances of immaturity—and really a whole panoply of foibles and character defects that beset any group of adults needing to rely on one another and to problem solve together in stressful conditions.

If we are to reorganize programs around “humanities,” as opposed to our current, traditional departmental arrangement, with its multitude of disciplines, a good first step would be to invite all the disciplines to some kind of planning/brainstorming/retreat-type experience in which there were guarantees of safe and non-threatening discourse, perhaps some food and drink, and some visible effort at securing both goodwill and honest sharing/analysis. That discussion hasn’t happened—at least in any kind of formal way. Collegial friendships among faculty across disciplines has, at times, led individuals to envision possibilities for new kinds of program building—at least in a sketchy, or conceivable way. 

In our own case, there are natural synergies between English and Communication, particularly in the area of rhetoric and writing; likewise, synergies exist in the realm of language, textual analysis and cultural studies—a space where philosophers, historians, sociologists, linguists, and literary scholars all feel at home. We could work together towards new programs that truly draw on the considerable strengths of our current faculty in the disciplines.

We have not had such discussions in any kind of formal way because we have been busy doing our jobs. We have been teaching full loads, which only relatively recently were raised to a 4-4 load, with increased course caps; we have been building assessment plans and conducting assessments; we have been writing reports and meeting to build programs within our current frameworks. We were doing these things in an era of unprecedented stress and uncertainty, caused in equal measures by Covid (whose impacts are still in evidence), and the administration’s aggressive and toxic approach to conducting business.  

The plan to eliminate our major was not on our horizon because, frankly, our numbers met all the published criteria for acceptable thresholds. In English we have 56 majors. Most (37) are English Secondary Ed—but these students are required to complete the same curriculum as the other tracks, so there seemed to be no danger in regards to the question of the demand for coursework in English. Also, our department’s contribution to General Education has historically been strong. Even as course caps were raised (to 30) we had good fill rates, and our cost per credit hour numbers for the institution made us, along with other CAS programs, a real bargain for the university.

In short, once the talk of program closing was introduced earlier this semester, many of us felt blindsided. I’m inclined to ask, belatedly, “Can we talk this over?”

Usually such talk involves curriculum committees, perhaps a task force, perhaps a sequence or series of meetings in departments and chairs council and other kinds of meetings. Instead, the process consisted of the provost and dean requiring chairs to fill out an unexpected program report, a quasi-program review with a turn-around of little more than a week or two (this report was requested despite the fact that our department had recently submitted a 50-page program review, along with a 3-page report from an external reviewer—neither of which received any acknowledgement or response from the administration, but which you may read here, once I have a moment to post the documents). As a follow-up to the new report, departments were invited to discuss “program evaluation and elimination” (the two terms yoked together in this way in the very first meeting). This meeting was suddenly announced during Spring Break, appearing in our calendars to take place the Wednesday after Spring Break—essentially giving us a 3-day notice. 

This is the fire hose of life at SXU—no time for deliberation, consolidation, consensus building, and calm planning. And the experience of the meeting was not any more collegial than the manner of calling it.

The Department of Language and Literature was only one of the several departments to be brought in for an “evaluation and elimination” discussion. The consensus among the departments was that the discussions did not go well. Our debriefing included descriptions of breakdowns of every kind; a full summary would require more testimony than I can provide here. Suffice to say, the discussions were not productive.

What would productive discussions include? We need to put our heads together on our goals, our resources, our opportunities—perhaps in the usual SWOT and similar-type analysis we’ve engaged in for strategic planning in the past. But for analysis to work we need a less toxic environment than the one we currently find ourselves in. We need trust. We need time and consideration. We need to believe that if the faculty votes down curricular changes, the Board of Trustees will not simply override our decisions and make the changes anyway—and refuse to speak with us about it when we have questions or concerns. All of that has been happening in recent Board actions, repeatedly. The breakdowns in communication between the Board and faculty has become near absolute. All this, as the Higher Learning Commission is slated for a site visit next January, with the express purpose of following up on, among other things, their mandate that the Board of Trustees to undergo a development program in the area of shared governance.

There were times in the past where there existed established lines of communication between the Board and faculty. Ex officio faculty members served on various Board committees and attended meetings. Trustees were present at campus events. There was camaraderie and shared experiences, values, and understandings. Such no longer is the case—but maybe some practices can be resurrected? 

What do we need to do to remedy SXU’s deficient approach to program elimination? Please write your suggestion in the comment area.